ALEXANDRIA, VirginiaThe first comprehensive assessment of cancer care quality in the United States indicates adherence to recommended care for patients with breast or colorectal cancer is excellent overall, but specific areas need improvement. Overall, breast cancer patients received 86% of generally recommended care, based on 36 quality-care measures. Patients with colorectal cancer received 78% of generally recommended care, based on 25 quality-care measures. The National Initiative on Cancer Care Quality (NICCQ) study, commissioned by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and undertaken by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and RAND Corporation, evaluated hospital cancer registries, patient surveys, and patient medical records from 65 hospitals in five US cities, to measure to what degree cancer patients received care consistent with best evidence in the literature and clinical practice guidelines.
Findings were presented at ASCO's 2005 annual meeting. Plans for improvement of care were discussed in the February 1, 2006, online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, and details will be published in national medical journals throughout 2006.
"The study found that for a large majority of patients, there was strikingly higher than anticipated adherence to processes of care. We were very pleased," commented coinvestigator Joseph S. Bailes, MD, of Texas Oncology, in a media telebriefing prior to publication of the study. Dr. Bailes, ASCO's interim executive vice president and CEO, initiated the study during his presidency of ASCO (1999-2000), after a 1999 Institute of Medicine report indicated some cancer patients were not receiving the most effective care for their disease.
Using data from a mailed survey of participating survivors 4 years after diagnosis and from review of the patients' medical records, the NICCQ study examined average percent adherence to explicit prevalidated quality-of-care measures for patients diagnosed with stage I-III breast cancer or stage II-III colorectal cancer in Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and Los Angeles.
A total of 1,287 breast cancer patients and 478 colorectal cancer patients surveyed had complete medical records available for review. In both the breast and colorectal cancer groups, 85% of the patients were white.
Investigators obtained copies of ambulatory medical records from all cancer-care providers and primary care physicians; for colorectal cancer patients, the inpatient record was also requested. Trained nurses used a computer-based instrument to abstract records. When abstraction revealed cancer providers not reported by patients, those physicians' medical records were requested.
"We know this is a unique study in the context of cancer care," said NICCQ coinvestigator Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, chair of ASCO's Task Force on Quality Cancer Care, which oversaw the research. "Most studies just look at billing records; they don't survey physicians and interview patients."